EGGPLANT: A VEGETABLE
DR. S. M. ALAM
Jan 9 - 15, 2012
The eggplant is a plant of the family of the nightshades. It bears a fruit of the same name, commonly used in cooking. As a nightshade, it is closely related to the tomato and potato and native to Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
It is a delicate perennial often cultivated annually. It grows 40 to 150 cm (16 to 57 in) tall, with large coarsely lobed leaves that are 10 to 20 cm (4-8 in) long and 5 to 10 cm (2-4 in) broad.
Semi wild types can grow much larger, to 225 cm (7 ft) with large leaves over 30 cm (12 in) long and 15 cm (6 in) broad. The stem is often spiny.
The flowers are white to purple, with a five-lobed corolla and yellow stamens. The fruit is fleshy, has a meaty texture, and is less than three cm (1.2 in) in diameter on wild plants, but much larger in cultivated forms.
The fruit is botanically classified as a berry, and contains numerous small, soft seeds, which are edible, but are bitter because they contain nicotinoid, alkaloids, unsurprising as it is a close relative of tobacco.
The plant is native to India and Pakistan. It has been cultivated in southern and eastern Asia since prehistory.
The scientific name Solanum melongena is derived from a 16th century Arabic term for one variety.
Because of the plant's relationship with the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, the fruit was at one time believed to be extremely dangerous.
Different varieties of the plant produce fruit of different size, shape, and color, though typically purple.
There are even orange varieties. The most widely cultivated varieties (cultivars) in Europe and North America today are elongated ovoid, 12-25 cm wide (4Ω to 9 in) and 6-9 cm broad (2 to 4 in) in a dark purple skin.
A much wider range of shapes, sizes, and colors is grown in India and elsewhere in Asia. Colors vary from white to yellow or green as well as reddish-purple and dark purple.
The raw fruit can have a somewhat bitter taste, but becomes tender when cooked. Traditionally, recipes would advise the salting, rinsing, and draining of the sliced fruit to soften it and to reduce the amount of fat absorbed during cooking, but mainly to remove the bitterness of the earlier cultivars.
Some modern varieties including those large, purple varieties commonly imported into Western Europe do not need this treatment.
The fruit is capable of absorbing large amounts of cooking fats and sauces, allowing for very rich dishes, but the salting process will reduce the amount of oil absorbed.
The fruit can also be stuffed with meat, rice, or other fillings and then baked. In the Caucasus, for example, it is fried and stuffed with walnut paste to make nigvziani badrijani.
Owing to its versatile nature and wide use in both everyday and festive Indian food, it is often described (under the name brinjal) as the 'King of Vegetables'. In one dish, brinjal is stuffed with ground coconut, peanuts, and masala and then cooked in oil.
In Pakistan, it is called bengun, while in Bangladesh, it is called begun. It, along with the fish hilsa, is used to cook a famous Bengali wedding dish. In tropical and subtropical climates, eggplant can be sown directly into the garden.
Eggplant grown in temperate climates fares better when transplanted into the garden after all danger of frost is passed. Seeds are typically started eight to ten weeks prior to the anticipated frost-free date.
Many pests and diseases, which afflict other solanaceous plants, such as tomato, pepper (capsicum), and potato, are also troublesome to eggplants. For this reason, it should not be planted in areas previously occupied by its close relatives.
Four years should separate successive crops of eggplants. Common North American pests include the potato beetles, flea beetles, aphids, and spider mites.
Good sanitation and crop rotation practices are extremely important for controlling fungal disease, the most serious of which is Verticillium.
Spacing should be 45 cm (18 in.) to 60 cm (24 in.) between plants, depending on cultivar, and 60 cm to 90 cm (24 to 36 in.) between rows, depending on the type of cultivation equipment being used. Mulching will help conserve moisture and prevent weeds and fungal diseases. The flowers are relatively unattractive to bees and the first blossoms often do not set fruit. Hand pollination will improve the set of the first blossoms.
A purple eggplant, which is sliced in half, turns brown just minutes after slicing. Production of eggplant is highly concentrated, with 85 percent of output coming from five countries.
China is the top producer in the world, accounting for 56 per cent of total output and India is second (26 per cent). Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia are also the top producing nations. More than four million acres (2,043,788 hectares) are devoted to the cultivation of eggplant in the world. In the United States, Georgia is the largest producing state.
TOP 10 EGGPLANT/AUBERGINE PRODUCERS
COUNTRY ANNUAL PRODUCTION (TONS) People's Republic of China 19 026 154 India 10 378 000 Egypt 1 250 000 Turkey 816 134 Indonesia 449 997 Iraq 396 155 Japan 349 200 Italy 245 300 Philippines 200 942 Spain 175 000 World 35 326 379
Studies of the Institute of Biology of Sao Paulo State University, Brazil, have shown eggplant is effective in the treatment of high blood cholesterol. Another study from Heart Institute of the University of Sao Paulo found no effects at all and does not recommend eggplant as a replacement to stains.
Eggplant is richer in nicotine than any other edible plant, with a concentration of 0.01 mg/100g. However, the amount of nicotine from eggplant or any other food is negligible compared to passive smoking. On average, 20 lbs (9 kg) of eggplant contains about the same amount of nicotine as a cigarette.
Case reports of itchy skin and/or mouth after handling and/or eating eggplant have been reported anecdotally and published in medical journals. A recent study of a sample of 741 people in India (where eggplant is commonly consumed) found nearly 10 per cent reported some allergic symptoms after consuming eggplant, while 1.4 per cent showed symptoms in less than two hours. Dermatitis from eggplant leaves and allergy to eggplant flower pollen have also been reported.